The “New” Chief Customer Officer

By Donna Fluss

“What is the chief customer officer (CCO) in charge of?”  If your CCO can answer this question, he or she may have a fighting chance of surviving and succeeding in this position. If your CCO can’t answer that question, then it’s time to update his or her resume, as it’s difficult to succeed when a job is not well defined.

The concept of a CCO is a great one. The challenge is that most companies already have many departments and managers who are charged with ensuring that customers are satisfied. The relevant parties include (but are not limited to):

  • Marketing: responsible for understanding and meeting customer needs and wants
  • Sales: responsible for selling customers what they are willing to buy
  • Customer Service/Technical Support: responsible for addressing customer inquiries and problems
  • Product Development: responsible for developing the products that customers want
  • Market Research: responsible for identifying customer needs and wants
  • CEO: responsible for creating an organization that is customer-centric and responsive to customer needs

At a minimum, a CCO is responsible for getting all of these siloed, customer-oriented departments to put their political interests aside and put the customer first. Enterprises have undertaken many initiatives to prioritize customers. They’ve invested millions of dollars in initiatives such as customer relationship management, customer experience management, voice of the customer, Six Sigma, and quality assurance. And often they have been disappointed with the results. This is because executives and managers are rewarded for meeting their goals, and the groups mentioned above do not share common goals.

Let’s put aside the cynicism resulting from years of watching the inner workings of typical corporate enterprises and concede that the concept of a CCO is a good one. At a high level, this person can be a major change agent, if empowered with the following responsibilities:

  • Managing all customer-facing activities: i.e., requiring all customer-facing groups and functions to report either directly or indirectly to this person
  • Influencing goals and compensation for managers of all customer-facing departments
  • Making changes to products, processes, policies, and systems, and reallocating resources as necessary to improve the customer experience
  • Accessing and creating, if required, systems that provide information about customer behavior, profitability, and satisfaction
  • Acquiring relevant and timely competitive information

If the CCO is going to be taken seriously, he or she should report to either the CEO or COO and be politically skilled and adept at getting people with conflicting agendas to work together. However, this is the easy part of the job. Customers should be the focal point of every company or corporation. In enterprises that are truly customer-centric, every employee is empowered to be a customer advocate. All policies and processes must prioritize customer needs over everything else, with the exception of profitability. Customer-centric companies have a clear mission and goals that put customers first and reward their employees and executives for “doing what it takes” to keep customer satisfaction and retention high.

I applaud organizations that demonstrate their commitment to customer needs by creating the position of CCO. However, this strategy is commendable only if the CCO is empowered to provide an outstanding customer experience. If the company’s objective is simply to use this position to put a good face on “business as usual,” then it will be detrimental to the organization, customers, and, of course, the incumbent.

Therefore, I encourage enterprises to build a customer-centric culture that puts customers first and rewards all employees for being customer advocates. This assumes that a structure is in place, with checks and balances, to make sure that all employees are doing the right things for their customers.

All customer-facing departments must share a common set of goals and objectives. If having a CCO moves the organization in this direction, the role will be highly beneficial for the corporation and rewarding for the individual. But just giving someone the title without making the necessary cultural and organizational changes is a formula for failure, as has been proven many times in the recent past.

Donna Fluss is the founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting. She is the author of industry reports on contact center hosting, IVR, speech analytics, performance management, workforce management, surveying and analytics, and quality management/liability recording. Contact Donna at

[From Connection Magazine September 2011]

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